Author: James L. Bruner
Sometimes the answers or solutions to a seemingly endless puzzle can be right under our noses without realizing it. Our yards and property borders are nothing more than purchased symbolic achievements for many people that dictate one household from the next even without the perfect white picket fence. In the view of an animal such as the whitetail deer, you find that these borders and homes may at times become more of a hindrance rather than a deterrant. Now, obviously we’re not going to suggest that you set up a treestand in that manicured oak tree found in your front yard but, we will recommend a few tips for success when pursuing a localized deer herd found in a suburban setting.
The whitetail deer is an extremely adaptable animal that is able to navigate, calculate, and conquer daily obstacles such as human travel and your daily routines. A perfect example would be the growing population of whitetails that have found “safety in the city” or, at least it’s outlying boundaries, while they continue to thrive and grow in numbers. We all hear the stories about small counties and their problems of deer treating their lawns, flower beds, and gardens, as a banquet table. And why not? More times than not we have decided to expand our housing development directly into the home range of a current deer herd. For the deer it’s a matter of survival on an everyday basis and it doesnt take a biologist to tell you that our lush lawns and landscaping efforts are very attractive to more than just the human eye. As such, deer will adapt to these changes and make use of this newfound resource and hunters can take advantage of this localized population of whitetails.
In the past I have traveled many hours in all directions simply to hunt an area where I knew the deer were present. Specifically, I knew at least one buck was residing in my hunting area and that alone sparked enough interest to justify the travel time to and from the stand each day. Granted, a majority of those hunts were successful but the results revealed a lot of windshield time and an added cost to the overall annual hunting totals. In those days I rented a small cottage on the lake at the outskirts of town and admittedly every added expense, including cost for hunting travel, played a large part in the overall budget. At times the expenses would over-ride my desire to travel to and from my hunting area. In short, I found myself in a situation where it was necessary to either make alternate hunting plans or limit my days in the field. The latter of the two just wasn’t feasible so the alternate plans to find a hunting area closer to home became a blueprint for hunting suburban bucks. As luck would have it I encountered a decent buck merely 200 yards from the cottage and one of my returning trips from my distant hunting area. Although this buck was spotted well after dark it set the wheels in motion for a little research and scouting a lot closer to home than I had initially planned. It also opened my eyes to a virtual plethora of deer sign right here at home that had slipped past my radar in previous days.
What I found in those days were a localized population of deer that practically considered my yard as part of their home range. Now lets put this into perspective. Given the fact that a whitetail deer’s home range is roughly a square mile, I knew that my yard, so to speak, had to be an outlying boundary given the fact that the lake began in my backyard. I decided to break out the plat book for my county and view the local land ownership and create a radius of one mile using my yard as the western end of the territory and the central location. This meant I would view everything east of my cottage for a full mile and everything north and south for a 1/2 mile to create the total 1 square mile of the deer’s home range. The plat book revealed that there were many acres of open property to hunt with full access from numerous vantage points including that area practically out my front door. In essence, once I found a suitable hunting area, I would be able to “walk” to this spot and hunt my distant area with less frequency and less expense. And so the scouting began.
My scouting for this area would be quick, decisive, and low impact. Through the plat book and some topographical mapping I was able to locate an elevation that rose 10 feet above the sorrounding lowland swamp which was a full 600 yards from my starting point. This entire area was that musky, damp, and dark, type of setting that simply wreaked of misfortune and hidden game animals so the elevation noted on the topo map brought the sense of a perfect bedding area for deer. I would venture towards the elevation and note all the deer sign and trails along the way. Needless to say I never reached the intended goal. I hadn’t gone 100 yards from the main road when it became apparent that deer were using this area heavily. As I walked further the trails also appeared to all be traveling in an east/west direction which made perfect sense. The deer more than likely were utilizing the lake for fresh drinking water and the local yards and gardens for quick supplemental feeding under the cover of darkness. It appeared that their westernly path would lead them directly towards the elevated area which I had intended on hunting from the beginning. I simply didnt want to take the chance of alerting the deer by stumbling directly into what I perceived as their main bedding area. I set up a stand just past the halfway point figuring that the deer would probably hang back in this thicker cover before venturing closer to the main road at dusk or later. I gave this area 3 days to “cool off” before returning to hunt.
Tips For Success:
Before doing any scouting you should familiarize yourself with the terrain as intimately as possible. Plat books, topo maps, and aerial photos will help you pinpoint possible hotspots or travel corridors such as funnels. Much of this can be done for free on the internet. See our Scouting At Night article for more information.
Take notes in the field. Don’t rely on mental notes because you will forget! A small journal with dates, locations, and well constructed memos will improve your decision making process. Think of this as an education in the classroom you wish you had back in high school.
Don’t resign yourself to a single hunting stand through the entire hunting season. In Michigan our archery season runs for 3 full months. The changes in weather affect the immediate available food sources. Deer will adapt to these changes and you should adapt with them.
When hunting surburban deer it is essential that you check local county and state laws that may prohibit the use of any weapon within minimal constraints of roads or housing.
When restrictions apply to your proposed hunting area search just beyond the restricted borders for a place to set yourself up to hunt. Remember, that even if restrictions are in place for hunting a specific area that does not mean that you cannot scout the same area to get a better perspective of deer movement.
Generally speaking, deer in a suburban area have grown accustomed to many of the scents associated to humans. Don’t drop your guard and feel that this is an opportunity to be lenient during your scouting. Rubber boots and minimal contact with brush and trees should always be a concern.
Never assume that you are the only hunter to realize the benefit of hunting these backyard bucks. During all scouting and travel to your area keep an eye out for the presence of hunters who may have moved in since your last visit.
Use the shortest route possible to and from your hunting area. Remember, these deer are no different than their woodland cousins in dealing with terms of survival. Once you tip them off to your presence they may change their pattern.
When hunting suburban areas you may find that you can play a large role in the herd management due to the confines or restrictions. A large doe will taste just as good as a buck. If the herd appears to be severely out of ratio you can do yourself and the herd a favor by taking a doe, or two, if possible.
Keep it quiet. Bringing your deer out of the woods under the cover of darkness when possible helps avoid your newfound hunting spot from being trampled by every hunter in the area.
Residential courtesy should also be considered. Although we are very proud of our hunting heritage we can be sure that not everyone in the community feels the same. Use your best judgement here as many scenarios could be considered.
After my 3 day wait I ventured off for the first morning hunt from my new stand and it became immediately evident that this area held more promise than expected. I was moving deer from the movement I entered the woods and this was somewhat disturbing and completely unintended. My worse fear was setting off the alarm to alert the local herd of my presence but there was the reassurance that the deer had indeed found refuge and safety in this small patch of swamp. It was unclear as to whether these deer were actually bedded or returning from their nightly visits into the small suburban setting before the first rays of sunlight. I hadn’t noted any bedding areas in my initial scouting so I assumed these deer had been active through the night and were returning to the security of the forest.
The first hour on the stand was very quiet and still for the most part. One of the acceptances of hunting suburban deer is the daily movement and noise associated with the small community. A car door slamming as people leave for work in the morning carries a long way through the woods on a quiet morning. At a mere 400 yards from the main road you can clearly hear the traffic of larger vehicles such as logging trucks as they hustle past to their next destination. In all I would say that this is the one aspect I could clearly do without when hunting this type of situation. Regardless of my personal views this is something the deer deal with every day and have grown accustomed to by association. I would suggest that these daily movements and sounds work as a clock for the local herd signaling that all is going as planned at the beginning of their day.
I had spent the second hour on the stand with nothing more than a fleeting glimpse of a deer meandering through some distant cedars and I began to doubt my current vantage point. Shortly after everything changed when a large doe wandered past my scaffold at the 20 yard mark presenting a perfect broadside shot. I let her walk with the understanding that I could gather more research by noting the reactions and directions of travel. She appeared to be heading towards the elevated ground I had initially planned to hunt. In my eyes this was a good sign.
Within the next hour, and my final hour of the morning hunt, I watched 3 more deer, all does, saunter past the stand in the same direction. Not one of these deer stopped to browse for food neither did they appear alarmed when the community activity increased in the background. At one point I could clearly hear the voices of children as they boarded the school bus. The doe in front of me simply tipped her ears back and listened probably just the same as she had done every morning.
That evening I returned several hours in advance of sunset realizing that darkness would envelope these woods quickly due to the very nature of this particular parcel of property. This time as I returned I hadnt moved a single deer and this fact alone lent more credence to the thought that this area would be best suited for the evening hunt. Within a half hour the first deer began to filter past the scaffold. A small spike revealed himself just beyond my chosen shooting lane. He was followed by several does all of which now appeared to be browsing as they made their way in an easternly direction. During my second hour on the stand a heavy beamed 8 point buck made it’s way right to the very edge of my shooting lane and paused briefly. My arrow passed through the buck in double-lung fashion and my first suburban buck was soon on the ground.
I wouldnt expect that everyone would have this same hunting opportunity in their back yard but there are many options when it comes to this type of hunting. Some good research on the property boundaries around your homestead may turn up some promising hunting areas. Try viewing maps at your city limits where housing and traffic begins to drop-off into more of a rural setting. Deer can be just as opportunistic as other animals when it comes to an easy meal. Provided there is adequate cover and bedding areas, you could find yourself hunting a lot closer to home with your first shot at a nice suburban buck.